What Really Happened

Recently listening to my favorite pastor, Erwin McManus out at Mosaic in Los Angeles, he made a point in a message that stuck with me.  He stated that none of the Gospel writers were around for the birth of Jesus.  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John came into the picture when Jesus was an adult. This means Mary and Joseph had to tell others the story.

Imagine how many times they had to tell the story.

nativity-set-figurine-3355002

I think we tend to minimize what happened.  Most can recite it by heart and our minds go to the plays and musicals of youth.

At the time, Roman gods painted a different picture.  They demanded obedience and sacrifice.  Temples and worship centers were across the empire. The gods, when bored, messed with humanity. When angry, bad things happened.  When happy, times were blessed.  The gods were distant though and creation bent to their whims.

This was different.

Imagine, the moment.  The instant. The blink of an eye when the particles of the universe moved and the divine arrived.  This wasn’t a temple in the midst of an elaborate worship ceremony.  This was dirt and darkness.  Animals and a star that lit the darkness around it.

This was a young father listening to his partner say she was pregnant when there was no way for it to physically be possible.  They decide, against everything else, to see it through.

This was angels, towering figures of light telling regular people to not be afraid. This was shepherds making a journey to people they’d never known, seeing the message and rejoicing, letting loose in celebration!

This was men traveling from far lands bringing gifts.

And lest we forget, this was death to hundreds of young boys in the attempt of a rash king to preserve his legacy.

The birth of Jesus was dark and dramatic and powerful. The creator of the Universe arriving in the form of a child, helpless and hungry.  The Holy arriving to show understanding and compassion, to dig in the dirt and meet us there.

God’s first breath coming in the cold Bethlehem air, first cry in humility, hunger and thirst.

Imagine his first perception of light, light created in the Beginning by the Word. Imagine the first touch of wind on his skin, wind coming from the Breath.  Imagine stars cast into the sky by the same small hands that grasp Mary’s finger.

Human and God.  Dirt and Noise. Power and Praise.  Fear and Celebration.

A night that changed history, past and present. A night that rewrote the future, that tipped the scales against death and the balance that would be paid on the cross.

Make no mistake, in the distance from the manger, over the hills, the cross loomed large. The story would be complete, victory would be won, creation transformed.

And it started here.  This night. This moment.

This look between Mary and Joseph and a smile saying we’ll be okay.  No matter how scared we are, we’ll be okay.

Everything will work out.

You Will Change The World

Reggie Dabbs, one of my favorite speakers, has visited our church a few times over the years.  He was a product of an encounter between his mother and a man she was sleeping with to get money for groceries.  No one, at this moment, speaks to more high school kids in this country than Reggie. His message of love changes the lives of students, teachers, and their communities.

Last week I met a young man working with We Agape You in the city of Reading.  He had grown up with violence, crime, gangs, drugs, and homelessness.  Now he delivers food to those in need and is building a new life for his wife and soon-to-be child.

Val has had clients who were sick and going through some tough times in their lives.  For the hour or two they are in her chair, she makes them feel valued and welcomed.  She helps them see their inner and outer beauty.

Thursday night Carter and I talked about school.  Out of curiosity, I asked him if there is anyone he doesn’t like.  He said, “Dad, I want to be friends with everyone.”

3416446845_02ed868350
Photo Credit: sdettling via Compfight cc

My visceral response to this is varied.  Ever have one of those Moses moments?  You know, where you tell God you aren’t fit for the calling?  You make up excuses.  Reality, the reflection in the mirror, seems to speak against your heart.

That small voice inside prompts with options.  When was the last time you…sat on the couch and relaxed, had a drink, fed the addiction? Shouldn’t you do something for yourself every now and then? You could always start tomorrow.

Nobody will buy that story/product anyway.

We must turn the focus around.  It’s funny, when I feel the insecurity the most is when I’m focusing on myself. Worry comes in waves.

The fact is, we are not enough. We can’t do it alone.

God, as Moses was told, designed us for a purpose. We are to change the world, to take our stories and tell them to provide hope for those going through the same. We are to be in a community of action and faith, belief and boots on the ground.

We must unite across location, race, economic class, political party, and agenda, holding hands not pointing fingers.

There is someone out there who needs you today.  They need you right now.  They may be a friend or neighbor.  They may be family. Drive to the city and you’ll see them on the corners or waiting outside the shelter. It is not easy but, if you step out in faith you will see God’s hand in action.

When we were driving around Reading this week, we were talking about shelters and the need for work and self-worth. The young man I mentioned above said this,

“Too many places give you a pillow and say, ‘get comfortable.'”

How comfortable are you today?

~Matt

You are Not Alone

Over the summer, our church does a sermon series titled Things We Need to Talk About. It is always a popular series and, each year, attempts to tackle some of the more pressing issues of the time.  We’ve covered marriage, family, dating, friendships, cults, other belief systems, even pornography. The series splits messages between the different pastors on staff and today we had the privilege of listening to Greg Hubbard talk about Overcoming Loneliness. Greg is our staff evangelist.  He and his wife go to destinations around the world and hold church meetings, help church plants, and minister to those in need.  He mentioned that loneliness is one of the largest problems we deal with today. Statistically, 20% of people in this country had dinner alone last night.  It is an issue that spans location, financial class, and even those in the seats around you every Sunday.

Initially, my thoughts went back to my time working in the emergency room. As patients arrived by ambulance, we would have to go to their rooms to complete registration paperwork.  This was not always possible as the more critical arrivals would need to be stabilized and, even then, were mentally out of it.  One night, the EMT came into the back room and signed in his patient. He said, “Whoever goes to that room, wear a mask or put some alcohol on your nose or something.  Just a warning.” The three of us in registration exchanged glances.  After a moment of silence, I said I would take it.  I put together the paperwork, took out an alcohol swab, cleaned my nose to block the smell, and went to the room.

It was like something from a movie.  It was summer.  They had found the patient in a hoarders’ residence with no air conditioning, uncared for and alone. The patient hadn’t cleaned their body in weeks. I had trouble getting the signatures I needed. I’ll save you the more direct details.

23225

There are things that create loneliness. We can create our own loneliness.  Growing up as an only child, the stereotype was always that we were loners. I know people who had second and third kids to purposefully not have only children. Now, with two boys of my own, the sibling dynamic is fascinating. I’m learning with each game, fight, dinner, and outing how the relationship of brothers grows and changes. I’ll admit, I do take comfort knowing they will go through life together.

There are ways to beat loneliness.  I’ll elaborate on three that Greg mentioned this morning.

1/Do Something– movement is the quickest way to beat getting stuck in loneliness. Start a journal, draw pictures, write music, write poetry. It can be as simple as taking a walk or going to the local book store and grabbing a coffee.  Meet a friend. Chances are, you know someone who could use a phone call or text message right now. Reach out and make a person’s day better.

2/Know God is Near– As the picture above says, mountains were made to be moved. Whatever circumstance you face, nothing is insurmountable. You are never out of the game.  One of the ambulance arrival registrations that stuck with me was getting information from the police on a successful hanging. They had found the body and cut it down.  Know this, there is always help. Call someone. Reach out. Go to an emergency room. They have counselors on staff to help.  Know that God is near you and ready to pull you out of your struggles, lift the burden, and free you to know life more fully.

3/Empathize with Others- There are people who need you, people going through the same stuff you have faced or may be facing. Locate a support group. Volunteer at a ministry opportunity. Find your passion.  It can be with kids, senior citizens, even your peers. Find a passion and reach out. We are all searching for something and fighting our darkness.  Help out in the battle and you’ll find your own weight lifted.

The most powerful thing you can do is serve somebody. If you are feeling lonely know that there is help and there is hope. You can break free, move forward, and start your life in a fresh direction. You can use your brokenness to help others and provide light into their lives.

You can make a difference.

~Matt

To Have and Have Not

I spent almost five years working in an investment company.  During my time there, I was on a few different teams.  We serviced a range of clients.  One of my jobs consisted of scanning in trust documents for the Wealth Network. In case you aren’t familiar with living trusts, a family can set aside a large amount of money for their future generations.  They can set standards for the money to be inherited, things like “Joey must pass monthly drug tests and remain clean for two years.” These families would attach pictures of their many homes, cars, and assets so we could have them on file if need came to disburse some of the trust money.

After a while in that role, I switched to the team that handled hedge funds.  I was the point of contact for six funds and their investments. We had to process the monthly wires into the fund and the market.  I remember, one afternoon, holding a sheet of paper (a wire to a bank)  in my hand for $31 million dollars.  I looked at the paper, the row of zeroes, and marveled at the importance of the things behind those numbers.23292We live in a culture that is searching for meaning. The search leads people to different ways of filling the brokenness in their lives and, make no mistake, we are all broken at some level. Some pick up the bottle, others the pills or pornography. I had a professor who was a clinical psychologist.  He told us a story one day that he had a patient who always dated abusive men.  She said to him, “put me in a stadium of men and I’ll find the one who will hit me.”  He had another who sat across from him with multiple facial fractures and told him it was her fault, that she deserved what her husband had done to her. Some people are victimized in their brokenness.

We are all searching. We all need hope.

I believe that making the choice to follow Jesus is the most dangerous thing you can do with your life.  God has your calling and, when you buy in, he will take you down to zero to refine you for the future.  He burns away the scars to reveal the material he can use. The disciples were all martyred for their faith.  They were pulled from their jobs and roles in society, shown a three-year window into living with the Son of God, and were never the same again.

Imagine for a second: The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and those afflicted with spiritual oppression are set free.  What was it like, listening to the Sermon on the Mount? To watch this man you spend every moment with live his life and set fire to the world?

Things today aren’t that much different. When you sit at work tomorrow, look to your left and right. Those people are searching.  They are searching for hope. They want that one thing they can rely on for security. They may be rich or poor, single or in families. They may sit next to you at church on the holidays. Every second of silence is a missed chance.

You want to see your spiritual life jump to the next level? Have that conversation. Make a difference in the eternal life of that person God has placed next to you. Every movement starts with a spark and you are that next person ready to change the world.  He tells us to go forth and make disciples of all the nations. There’s your answer. That is fulfillment. That is joy greater than any amount of zeroes on a paycheck.

So, how will you respond?
~Matt